As I found out a few days ago, it takes a lot to impress a room full of serious whiskey drinkers.
I was a guest at a local New York tasting club, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and what got the two dozen or so members most excited was a rare bottle of barrel strength Blanton’s that was purchased in the Caribbean and brought home in a suitcase. The whiskey didn’t disappoint and plans were hatched as how another bottle could be obtained.
But Blanton’s isn’t the only distillery producing special versions for foreign markets that you can’t buy in the United States.
So, as you embark on your summer travels this Memorial Day weekend, keep an eye out for these very special bottles in foreign liquor stores and in duty free shops that are bound to impress you and your drinking buddies.
Blanton’s Barrel Strength (75 € to 99 €)
In the early 1980s, legendary distiller Elmer T. Lee created Blanton’s, which was the first single barrel bourbon and helped usher in our current American whiskey renaissance.
The brand only sells a 93-proof version in the US but there’s also a non-chill filtered barrel strength edition that is sold in Europe, Japan and duty free. If you’re a super bourbon fan, you’ll also want to add to your collection Blanton’s 80-proof and 103-proof versions sold in a number foreign markets.
Glenmorangie Tarlogan ($90)
A few years ago, Glenmorangie created the Legends Collection, a series of single malt Scotches to be sold exclusively at duty free stores around the world.
The line now includes Duthac and Tayne and, starting in June, travelers will be able to get their hands on the limited-edition Tarlogan. What makes it so special? Tarlogan was aged in both new oak casks and former bourbon barrels. That combination is pretty rare, since Scotch brands generally do not age their whiskey in virgin wood.
Auchentoshan Heartwood ($62) & Blood Oak ($85)
Like new parents, every distillery insists its whiskey is unique and special, but Auchentoshan actually does do things differently than almost all of its competitors.
Instead of distilling its Scotch twice, which is standard, it distills its whiskey a third time. That extra step produces a very light and drinkable spirit.
Wild Turkey 8 Year Old 101 ($21) & 13 Year Old Distiller’s Reserve ($50)
Wild Turkey is famous around the world for its 101-proof bourbon (it was John Wayne’s favorite after all), but the brand also produces a few special whiskies for Japan.
Visitors to the country can pick up an 8-year-old version of the standard 101-proof bourbon (the one in American doesn’t have an age statement and is probably a few years younger) and also a more mature 13 year old.
Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve (54 €) & Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve (54 €)
If you’re going to be in Asia or Europe this summer, you should definitely try to get a taste or a bottle of Suntory’s Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve. Both Japanese whiskies feature some very good younger malts that are blended with older stock. The fruity Yamazaki includes whiskey finished in French oak wine casks from Bordeaux and the smoky Hakushu features some 18-year-old whiskey.